You are on page 1of 5

12/31/2014 7 Steps for Leading Lean with Respect for People

print | close

7 Steps for Leading Lean with Respect for People
Michael Ballé
Tue, 2014-09-16 12:58

With Lean Thinking, Jim Womack and Dan Jones ushered a true (and rare) revolution in management
thinking: To deliver a superior order of performance, leaders should lead from the workplace, the “gemba”
to use the lean term (it means real place, real products, real people) and not from the boardroom.

Like the air we breathe, the established paradigm of 20th century leadership is so ubiquitous that it is hard
for anyone to question it. A leader’s job is to come up with strategies for what to do and how to do it, and
managers execute organizational processes so that employees do what they’re told. “Gemba” leadership
turns this idea on its head, asserting that superior results will be achieved if leaders spend all their time
encouraging small-step continuous improvement at the workplace (“kaizen”) and then they’ll learn about
their strategies and processes from working with their people rather than thinking in their stead.

A seductive idea, but rather hard to swallow -- as any leader who’s taken his or her first steps with lean
management will bear witness. A leader serious about learning lean will first find a sensei and commit to
“gemba walks.” During these tours of the shop floor (or office workspace), the sensei will make a big
production of showing apparently minor things out of place, such as a pile of files on someone’s desk or a
crate in a corridor, and then will demand (yes! Demand!) 1) better visual control (whatever that means) and
2) problem solving, sometimes in the form of improvement workshops to discover the causes of these
problems.

To the traditional leader, no matter how genuine their interest in lean, this is totally bewildering:

Why should these details matter?
Why should they be concerned about them – and not frontline management?
What do we expect to gain from fixing that level of “problem”?
How can any of this somehow translate in superior company-level performance?

The paradigm gap and the very different management assumptions made in lean thinking, make these
questions hard to respond to satisfactorily, other than saying that leaders who’ve done it in earnest have had
the results (after 20 years of documented lean evidence, no one much disputes that).

First, watch out for the No. 1 trap. As is well known in lean circles, the leader is likely to latch on to one
specific tool and pull it back to their understanding of project management. For instance, the leader will fall
in love with, say value-stream mapping and use it as a mainstream management tool: They’ll hire a lean
specialist to map processes, organize workshops to improve processes with nominal employee participation
(we’re involving people, aren’t we?), establish performance improvement targets and, well, manage the
“transformation.”

Small Performance Improvements Backslide to Average
This, usually, delivers low-hanging fruit results, but reality exists and reality resists: Performance will not
http://www.industryweek.com/print/lean-six-sigma/7-steps-leading-lean-respect-people 1/5

Things are misplaced because of confusion. one of competence. procurement 2. in fact. production makes many mistakes. the reflection of peoples’ actual skill levels: sales skills to capture real customer requirements. Cooperation across functions Visual control is about teaching the employees themselves how to structure their work environment in order to see at one glance whether the situation is OK or NOK.industryweek. same old. engineering is always late. logistics skills to procure rapidly and so on. that engineers send drawings to production without detailing how the equipment should be assembled.no surprises here. If leaders succeed in getting people to solve problems one by one. Invariably. For instance. In our example. and so on. Individual skills 3. The process can evidently be leaned by creating “value- streams” by which some production cells will work with a few engineers in a “mini-business” configuration. The lean approach would be very different. Jobs are late because of rework. Processes break down because of poor communication. The core issue of performance is. let’s consider the business of making specialized stage machines for the entertainment business. which will radically accelerate the flow of work and bootstrap the company’s performance. In engineering this might be setting up a kanban board to see how engineers take projects one at a time rather than have files accumulate on desks. and require some discipline. The existing process is.12/31/2014 7 Steps for Leading Lean with Respect for People improve that much before returning to average. Visual control of each area – logistics. then they will learn (and leaders will learn about what hurdles the organization throws at staff to stop them from doing good job). Responses to customers are too slow. and unwittingly favor some files versus others according to skill levels in the “value stream” teams. production. customer requirements poorly understood. At first all and sunder will resist it because highlighting the difference between what we planned and what really happens shows up problems everywhere. A superficial understanding of lean will then lead to a value-stream mapping workshop that will show that having production working independently from engineering with a big buffer of design files ready for assembly in the middle doesn’t make much sense. very lucky. same old. engineering. this could be drawing out on the floor areas for truck preparation before the truck arrives. Before changing anything in the process we would need to commit to continuous improvement of: 1. purchasing takes forever to procure special components. many issues will arise. this is unlikely to deliver the desired results. Implementing the new process will simply confuse operations further. and logistics can’t ever deliver to customers on time -. but unless we’re very. detailed problems will surface skills gaps – people know how to do some things better than others. This makes everyone uncomfortable: Employees don’t like to be caught out by their bosses and managers hate not having an immediate response to solve all problems.com/print/lean-six-sigma/7-steps-leading-lean-respect-people 2/5 . engineers skills to design performance. production skills to produce quality on time. Visual control tricks need to be learned. not just CAD drawings. The theory is perfectly sound. As people take ownership of visual control and start clarifying their interfaces. As each department learns to do its job better as well as better interface with each other within the existing http://www. managed by change agents and supported by management champions. for example. not surprisingly. all day long. The project can be scoped with objectives. We will find.

2. Challenging means demanding that visual control should always more be more precise and better owned by operators. we drew up a model of “gemba competences” for how to lead with respect: 1. This is a sampling approach rather than an overview attitude. Lead With Respect is an attempt at detailing those gemba management skills and to give them a broader context in terms of company performance. the key to sustainable continuous improvement is to get people to agree on the problem before they start arguing about solutions – go and see is a foundational political as well as technical skill. control execution with reporting and redesign processes with staff expert teams. make decisions in meetings. creating small cells with a few engineers and a few operators to accelerate the flow of specially made products will become feasible because people will understand what is expected of them and will find ways to make it work. http://www. Go and see for yourself: to see the facts firsthand rather than read reports.industryweek. In our case. but they simply don’t know how – they might have the motivation but they lack the skills. many managers will have experienced firsthand that “management by walking about” at the workplace without visual controls in place is more disruptive than helpful and has not much in common with a lean “gemba walk. opportunities for structural process improvement will appear.12/31/2014 7 Steps for Leading Lean with Respect for People process. of problem-based training and look for the next opportunity of improvement – this is the lean way: Frontline management takes responsibility for visual control. No more “in a nutshell” briefings.com/print/lean-six-sigma/7-steps-leading-lean-respect-people 3/5 . On the advice of John Shook. They have been trained (and been selected) to crunch numbers and analyze reports. employee training and ultimately process improvement. When put so bluntly. By looking at specific cases at the customers’ or at the workplace. no wonder that many managers balk at truly adopting lean thinking. Lean Enterprise Institute CEO. Challenge: the energy that fuels the continuous improvement engine. leaders can better understand context and values. Furthermore.” Leaders and managers might want to acquire lean practices. A Model of Gemba Competences Furthermore. Change will then become easier to implement and far more sustainable – and then we can continue to improve the degree of visual control.

leaders must constantly develop teamwork by teaching individuals to work with their colleagues across functional silos (and. published by the Lean http://www. yes. managers do have the larger context). for the specific obstacles that get in the way of employees doing their job well.industryweek. this sometimes involves banging heads together before they agree to do so). we need to establish a professional conversation about work. These seven skills are practices. 4. Teamwork means being able to solve problems across functional boundaries – it’s the key to successful process improvement. is a lean management practitioner. that process improvement deliver more results and more customer oriented. employees are often far more expert than their managers at their jobs – they know what to do.” Supporting improvement means exactly that – learning to say “go ahead” to people when they come up with new. Teamwork: The quality of the problem solving is directly linked to the quality of the teamwork. you discover that as employees learn. business writer and author. 3. Every second of a person’s life is precious. Challenge also means explaining how step-by-step improvements link up with the company’s overall business challenges and objectives to orient the improvement efforts and make everyone feel they contribute to a larger collective project. The trick is to focus on problem solving and improvement efforts. fit-to-fact manner.12/31/2014 7 Steps for Leading Lean with Respect for People that problem solving be more rigorous and seeking root causes. 7. Listen: listening means looking out. Teaching: teaching problem-solving skills and improvement skills. leaders discover that their mental maps are not always framed in the right. Lead With Respect aims to make explicit these key skills to help managers leverage their lean efforts. asking them to do things beyond their competence level or personal difficulties. even with their heart in the right place. untested ideas. and listening means very specifically hearing how and why we waste people’s time – whilst not reacting (and often killing the messenger). Leaders have the big picture. PhD. By involving oneself deeply in problem solving and employee initiatives. poorly performing equipment or suppliers. pooh-poohing the difficulty or coming up with a pithy solution. you learn. you learn. The skill lies in learning to listen and discuss well enough to avoid having to say no to hare-brained schemes and encourage instead very small risk-free steps (risk for a senior manager and for a workplace employees looks very different). His most recent book. Learn: As you gain in experience with gemba walks. consequently. at the workplace. not vague intentions (“listen more” is hard to disagree with but not helpful). In our experience. These are practices leaders learn by spending hours on the gemba observing and discussing visual management and the problems it reveals. the likely answer from middle-management is likely to be “can’t do that. Michael Ballé. which is probably the most profound discovery (and message) of lean leadership. In a knowledge society. co-authored with Freddy Ballé. especially when it goes against the grain of organizational habits. As people on the ground learn. but as we all know the map is not the territory and the word “cat” doesn’t scratch.com/print/lean-six-sigma/7-steps-leading-lean-respect-people 4/5 . In order to establish the right grounds for process improvement. Yet. 6. feel disappointed by the bottom-line results they get from their lean efforts. Support: Whenever an employee has an initiative. whether thankless tasks. is Lead With Respect: A Novel of Lean Practice. leaders fumble their presence at the gemba and. 5. which enable us to delve quickly into technical issues even though we don’t always master the ins and outs (on the other hand. without mastering these foundational behavioral skills.

Paris. Ballé is associate researcher at Télécom ParisTech's Projet Lean Enterprise and co-founder of the French Lean Institute.industryweek. he helps companies and executives adopt lean systems and behaviors. As managing partner of ESG Consultants.industryweek. Source URL: http://www.com/print/lean-six-sigma/7-steps-leading-lean-respect-people 5/5 .com/lean-six-sigma/7-steps-leading-lean-respect-people http://www.12/31/2014 7 Steps for Leading Lean with Respect for People Enterprise Institute.